Linux Certified Rant

This is a rather long update, it wasn't supposed to be this long, but I guess when I rant, I RANT.


My laptop went haywire again. I've read a lot claims in linux forums and what not that "Linux Certified" make pretty good laptops with linux preinstalled. Well, I own one and I'm not even going to acknowledge them by putting a link to their website from here. Albiet, it was cheap, I needed a laptop quick, I did NOT want to use Windows, and I estimated that it would take a week to get a proper and stable installation of linux on a laptop (the last time I installed linux on a laptop was on a Thinkpad, like 10 years ago).

I ordered a LC2200, and it had Fedora Core 2 pre-installed. I turned it on and noticed right away how LOUD the fans are. Not long after, I noticed how super hot the laptop got. 2 things I can live without but considering I spend most of my time in a room filled with the hum of 20 computers, it wasn't really that bad. Lots of noise and high heat dissapation aside, it was time to start setting shit up. I immediately installed mplayer on it and realized that sound was totally hosed. A day of messing around and I managed to remove the old (broken) sound driver and get alsa properly installed. Next, I had to install the synaptic driver so that I could get rid of the annoying tap=click feature. Now, I don't know how much regular people use their laptops, but mine is on and doing something 24 hours a day. Every 2 days or so, gnome applets crash, X will restart mysteriously, or the laptop itself will simply lock up requiring me to do a hard reset. Recompiling X, the gnome applets, or installing newer rpms solved nothing. In the process of trying to get my applets from crashing constantly, I noticed that the battery status applet is reporting things all wrong. Some research revealed that it wasn't ACPI that was reporting the wrong values, but the battery itself that was reporting the wrong values. Even the hardware thinks the battery is just constantly being charged, even after hours of charging. A few emails to the Linux Certified support was sent and they told me not to worry about it and that I should still get about 90 minutes of battery life, and, if I start getting noticeably less battery life to let them know and they'll replace the battery. So, I hacked the battstat applet so that it reports some value even remotely close to accurate. Well... so much for saving a week of time installing linux.

Within a month, one of the mouse buttons broke off, no big deal, I never used it anyways. Not long after, the top of the keyboard started to pop out, this was only an annoyance because when pressing the top 2 rows of keys the keyboard sinks a little. This was fixed rather hastily by shoving some paper at the bottom of the keyboard so that the top would latch properly. A month or so later, I noticed that the wireless card drops out from time to time (this was verified after a few hours of tracing, monitoring with other wireless devices around the house, and WEP snooping), regardless of whatever network I'm on (home/office/girlfriend's/coffee shop). I wanted to do some research before I sent email to support, but the card itself isn't labeled, has no S/N and the docs that came with the laptop only mentioned that it was a Prism chipset, which was good enough to narrow it down. Before I got around to sending them email, the problem went away. OK, whatever, the crashing problem is 10x more annoying than this anyways.

In October, while sitting on my girlfriend's back porch, the laptop shut off and wouldn't turn back on. After I went inside and plugged it in, I was able to turn it back on. A little more fiddling verified that the battery was no longer working, even though ACPI tells me it's fully charged. Wasting no time I emailed Linux Certified. After about 4 or 5 correspondents, they told me they'd send me a new one, I thanked them and awaited a new battery. Weeks passed, weeks of me having to close all my stuff and shutdown everytime I wanted to move my laptop, and no battery. So, I emailed them and asked if there was a problem. Seems the problem was that they needed to know what color my laptop is so that the battery would match. Grey, or silver, the laptop is silver. Thinking a battery was on the way, I endured a few more weeks of having to shutdown my laptop everytime I needed to leave my house, take it upstairs, to the living room, etc... I emailed them again (politely) asking if there was a problem, and they told me they needed an address to send the battery. Well, now that they have an address, the color and model of my laptop, what else could go wrong? Fortunately, nothing. About 2 weeks later, my battery finally arrived and I was back in business, or at least as much in business before the battery stopped working.

A few months before this happened, a friend of mine got me really into Gentoo Linux. Since then, I've been using it almost exclusively, and I'd be talking about it more if I wasn't supposed to be ranting. Enduring months of apps crashing, X/laptop restarting mysteriously, and system halts has a cumulative effect of REALLY wanted to reinstall your OS. When I finally decided to install Gentoo and throw out Fedora, the higher powers decided to act, and the heads of my harddrive decided to take a platter dive. A quick BIOS check and putting in a good HD verified that it was just the HD and nothing wrong with the laptop itself. Time to send email to Linux Certified again... 4 or 5 emails later, they said they'd be sending me a replacement harddrive. Believing that I learned my lesson the last time, I preemtively sent them an address to ship it to, a phone number, and even my laptop color just to be safe. Weeks passed without a word from them, I decided to send them another email to check on the progress. Another week passed, still no reply, so I sent another email, I mean, this time I didn't have a laptop at all (instead of having one with the requirement of being plugged into an AC outlet all the time). Another week passed, and I was about to send another email when I got a call from Linux Certified. The guy on the phone told me that my laptop wasn't under warranty, which sounded fishy because I could have sworn that their website advertised a 1 year warranty for the LC2200. I wasn't in any position to argue, since I don't have a copy of the original order handy nor did I have a copy of their website, plus, Michelle was the one who dealt with ordering it. A quick assessment told me that this simply wasn't worth it, so I caved and said, OK, no warranty, I don't want to argue. He then proceeded to try to sell me a new harddrive. Now, I have few regrets in my life, but I was beginning to regret not trusting my very first impulse the millisecond I realized the drive was toast, the impulse of opening up Firefox and ordering a new one. The current situation: me being on the phone, over a month after turning down that original impulse of just saying 'Fuck it' and buying a new drive right then and there, and the guy on the other end of the phone, belonging to a company that I neither wanted to do business with ever again nor have any correspondence with from this day on, is trying to sell me a new harddrive. The urge to laugh in his face was daunting. However, I politely turned down the 'offer' and came up with some made up excuses why, while my hands were on a keyboard and mouse purchasing a new harddrive online. By the time I hung up the phone, the 'purchase' button was already clicked and there was a brand new Seagate 60Gb HD with 900G's of shock protection AND a 5 year warranty on the away.



A mere 2 days after that phone call, a new harddrive was installed and a Gentoo live CD was in the CD-ROM. I'm not going to write up a "Installing Gentoo Linux on a Linux Certified LC2200" like many people who install linux on their laptops sometimes do (and those pages are pretty useful I might add), because 1) I am a lazy bastard, 2) I didn't write anything down, and 3) I just wanted a working laptop ASAP after over a month of having to borrow others' laptops and being forced to use Windows. Needless to say, once you've installed Gentoo a few times it really isn't that hard. Within minutes I was at the part where I was compiling my kernel. Knowing that a new laptop (for me) was on its way, I setup my kernel so that it would boot with my new laptop. This way, when my new super-badass ThinkPad arrives, I just need to swap drives and I'm in business.

Everything went rather smoothly with the exception of 2 things. The first, a lesson that I'll be sure to remember, is that I should NOT do a emerge --sync and a emerge --update world until I've finished the basic install; what possessed me to do this, I may never know. Even though this didn't cause any problems, it did cause a bit of confusion, since throughout the install I changed around my USE flags quite a bit and in retrospect, I should have waited until I finished the install before recompiling the 'world'. The second snag was getting wireless to work. I had anticipated problems with this and I reviewed the Gentoo Wireless How-To. I decided to be lazy and use iwconfig. However, the Prism card wasn't working at all. The right PCMCIA modules were loaded, and if I understood them correctly, I should be able to see, at the very least, something in the socket using the pcmcia utils. But there was nothing, the PCMCIA driver wasn't even recognizing that something was there. My next option was to try another wireless card. Fortunately, I had commandeered this Orinoco high power 802.11g card from a peice of shit Dell that we used for Seagate development. Plugged that bitch in and I was networked. It was as simple as that, encryption and everything. This card has a much more powerful radio, and combined with the high power antennae we have on the AP, I can walk down the street with my laptop and still be networked. Hooray. Another day or 2 of installing the necessary apps, mplayer, gimp, gaim, firefox, rxvt, snooping tools, etc, and copying all my config files from my desktop machine and I was good to go. Needless to say, I now have a somewhat crappy laptop, which has loud-ass fans, too hot to actually place on my lap, a flakey connection between the AC adapter and the laptop (which causes it to run on the battery from time to time while plugged in), with a missing mouse button. But on the bright side, the laptop doesn't crash constantly, gnome applets don't crash, X doesn't restart mysteriously, my terminals don't dissappear, my wireless doesn't shut off by itself, this is only temporary until my Thinkpad arrives and best of all, I'll never have to send email to Linux Certified or talk to them on the phone ever again!

Moral of the story: Don't believe everything you read on the InTaRwEbs, and just fucking spend a $1000 more and buy a Thinkpad.

Filed under: Computers